For as long as I can remember, F1 has always drawn the rich and the famous to the sport. Sports stars, rock stars, models, celebrities and world leaders have all been spotted at F1 races and F1 wants them there. Why? It’s great for the sport!
When you get the likes of Bill Clinton, David Beckham or Mariah Carey at a race, that race gets world-wide attention outside of the normal motorsport media. In general, people love celebrities, but what’s in it for these well known people? A nice day out? Yes, for those who enjoy motorsport, but more often it’s the worldwide exposure that F1 offers that attracts celebs.
Going back to the Bernie Ecclestone days, he was was up front about the way he wanted the sport to be perceived. In an email to Renault’s Cyril Arbiteboul he was clear.
‘Please be reminded that where possible, grid access passes should be used for celebrities or people of note or as always, really glamorous ladies.
‘This is not so much a sporting matter but a part of the show business of Formula One.
F1’s new owners, Liberty Media, admit they are running an entertainment business and having the rich and famous in the paddock is great for business. Over my short 3 years photographing the sport I’ve shot a number of celebrities in the paddock. Probably the most exciting for me was the day David Beckham attended the 2019 Bahrain GP as a guest of one the sheiks. He visited the Ferrari garage with Gerhard Berger and then enjoyed some time on the grid prior to the start. He had a real presence about him and was happy to be photographed and interviewed.
Actress Catherine Zeta Jones was a guest of the Stroll family the same day David Beckham was at the track and is seen here on the grid.
Her husband Michael Douglas is a mad F1 fan and I have shot him on a couple of occasions including this day at Silverstone alongside Lance Stroll’s sister Chloe. When the movie Cars 3 was released in 2017 the stars of the movie, Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson attended the British GP where they held a press conference in a special Cars 3 garage. US actor Will Smith not only turned up at the Abu Dhabi GP, he filmed a cheeky video involving Lewis Hamilton in 2018. Puma had just a few days to knock him up a custom Mercedes racesuit but pulled it off as you can see. One of the world’s best known movie characters, James Bond, was at the British GP in 2019 in the form of actor Craig David.Below is South African Trevor Noah who has his own talk show in the US. He attended the 2019 US GP and had Daniel Ricciardo on his show that year promoting Drive to Survive 2. And one of my favourite comedians, sharp tongued Brit Jimmy Carr, was present in Singapore in 2019. But how do these people get access to the paddock? Some will openly contact the FIA or the teams and ask if they’re able to attend on a certain day if they’re in town. The bigger the name, the more chance of a paddock pass being provided as they bring big and positive publicity to the sport. Sometimes the teams will court various stars with offers of a day out at the track knowing that can boost their brand. And the FIA often plays hosts to stars in their hospitality suite at the track.
Sports stars are often in attendance and those of you from the US will know the bloke on the right below; US football star Tom Brady, seen in the Monaco paddock. At the 2019 Brazilian GP footballer Danny Alves met up with the McLaren drivers, Carlos Sainz Jnr and Lando Norris. Fabio Quartararo is a giant in the MotoGP world and I’ve shot him at the track a couple of times including at the 2019 Spanish GP with Pierre Gasly. Neymar was a guest of Red Bull at Silverstone for the 2019 British GP.Tottenham Hotspur coach Jose Maurinho attended the British GP of 2019 and was enjoying a chat with Nico Rosberg as they both left the track.And walking just behind the pair was Jamaican cricketer Chris Gayle in a colourful outfit.In 2020 Australian tennis ace Lleyton Hewitt was a guest in the Melbourne paddock on the only day of the season where the paddock was full of people. Covid put a stop to that for the rest of the year. On the music front, I’ve seen DJs Tiesto,and Armin Van Buuren (below and left) enjoying the perks of being an invited guest.Will I Am and the Black Eyed Peas were dressed to the nines at the British GP of 2019.And Will popped up again a few months later in Austin.Mumford and Sons were at Silverstone in 2019 waiting to catch up with Daniel Ricciardo outside the Renault hospitality suite.
Spice Girl Geri Halliwell pops up at a number of races given her husband Christian Horner runs Red Bull. Still on the music front, Guns n Roses guitarist Slash was getting ready to go out on the track for a Hot Lap when I caught him in the Abu Dhabi paddock in 2019. And I convinced Mariah Carey to have a seat in the safety car at the Azerbaijan GP of 2017. She was one of the concert acts at that event. Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall enjoyed a chat with Christian Horner prior to the Singapore GP of 2018. I shot singer Sam Smith in the Abu Dhabi paddock that same year; I do like his music. Here’s Christina Aguilera in Baku in 2018 “faking interest in F1” as David Coulthard claimed , and Joel Madden, lead vocalist for the American pop punk band Good Charlotte, enjoyed an evening at the Singapore GP in 2018. World leaders have been seen at the track and more often than not, handing out trophies on the podium. Here’s President Bill Clinton in Austin 2017, and Vladimir Putin in Sochi the same year looking straight down the barrel of my lens prior to handing out trophies. He arrived at the track shortly before the end of the race and left promptly after performing his duties. The British GP attracts a feast of stars but so too does Monaco given it being the glitziest race of the year. Billionaires park their yachts in the harbour and host lavish parties for the rich and famous. Fashion king Tommy Hilfiger sponsors Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes and he brought his wife Dee Ocleppo (middle) to the Monaco track in 2018. Also guests of Mercedes that year was realty TV star Kris Jenner. One of the big events of the Monaco GP is the Amber Lounge Fashion show which draws a monied crowd hopeful of rubbing shoulders with celebs like ex-Baywatch star Pamela Anderson, and actress Kate Upton.
There are many other famous celebs who’ve graced the paddock but I haven’t shot including Justin Bieber, Christiano Ronaldo, Rowan Atkinson (Mr Bean) and more.
As long as F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport it will continue to court the rich and famous and I will continue to photograph them.